I am passionate about being a great dad. Not passionate as in I want to tongue-lash the concept, but passionate as in I spend as much time as possible getting better at it.
My parents, and I think many parents, just don’t give a fuck about parenting. They go through the motions. The goal is to get your kid to eighteen without any disfiguring injuries or criminal records, and then you can relax. You’ve done your job.
As a parent and a member of a community I have an obligation. My obligation is to raise my boys so they can support themselves, support their community, and generally treat other people well. If you cannot being your kids to this level them you are doing your community a disservice, as well as making the world a worse place for everyone else’s children. Get your act together.
The Two Parts to Parenting
You can split parenting into two parts. There’s survival, and there’s coaching. Most parents are reasonably good at the first part, and mediocre at best at the second.
Survival is the basics. Getting food on the table. Getting them to school. Keeping them safe. And, as my parents did, instilling the right mix of fear and religious conviction that keeps them off the streets and out of Big Bubba’s pants in the local prison.
Coaching is where parenting seems to get tough, and I think it’s because most people don’t know how to teach, and nor do they know how kid’s brains work. Coaching rides on the assumption that you know how you want your child to turn out. You cannot coach for tennis if you want your boy to play football. In the same way, you must coach for the behaviours you want to see. This requires that you know those behaviours.
All too often parents are disappointed in their kids when they get to age, and they don’t get amazing jobs, or they are not motivated, or they don’t have a work ethic, or they don’t suddenly go out and become real estate moguls or rock stars. “Oh but they’ve got so much talent… They’re so smart!” whine the parents of mediocre kids. Well, what the fuck happened?
You fucked up. Ninety-five percent of the time, you fucked up. There’s room in there for genetic and psychological freaks that will be idiotic adults no matter who parents them. But for the majority of us, how our kids turn out is almost the sole result of parenting.
The Four Parenting Types
Dr Laura Markham of ahaparenting.com wrote a fantastic book called Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids – How To Stop Yelling And Start Connecting. This is by far the best book I’ve read on parenting, and it ticks all the boxes for me. It discourages violence against children, disregards praise and punishment as motivators, and disapproves of permissive parenting.
I had many lightbulb moments when reading this book, but none more so than when reading of the different styles of parenting. The four types are Authoritarian, Permissive, Negligent and Authoritative.
In brief, Authoritarian parents are little dictators, Permissive parents let their kids do what they want (usually as a reaction to their authoritarian parents), and Negligent parents are exactly that.
I was a child of authoritarian parents. I’d rejected that as a parenting style from a belief that it hinders the child’s inherent need to discover on his own terms. However I hadn’t been able to reconcile how to encourage both his self-discovery AND meeting my high expectations.
Then I saw this table.
Authoritarian parents are the classic “You must meet my expectations!” kind of parents. However, they offer no support to reach those expectations, and often believe that by simply demanding better outcomes that they have done their job. My father once told me he was disappointed in my grades at school. He offered me a reward to get As across the board, but he didn’t show me how I could possibly reach those heights.
Authoritarian parenting had confused me, and made me equate demandingness and expectation with bad parenting. Permissive parenting was just as bad to me, and the kids I knew with permissive parents were utter ratbags with their own set of problems.
My lightbulb moment was to realise that being nice to your kids AND having high expectations were not mutually exclusive. In fact, that’s exactly what the best parents do, and what the most well-adjusted kids appreciate. Kids like have demands made of them, because it helps them feel challenged and as part of a special group, their family. This type of parenting is called Authoritative.
The key is to be demanding of certain behaviours and outcomes, but also to offer as much support as necessary to reach those goals. Kids live in a new universe where methods for success are completely unknown. They need as much education and reinforcement as possible before being released into the wild.
Authoritative parents coach their kids by expecting their kids to perform well, then giving them what they need to do the best they can. It’s a model all parents can work towards.